When Asking for Mercy – A Lesson from the Battle of Bannockburn

“Now that the Scotch were fairly drawn up in order of battle, the English could see how small was their number in comparison to their own, and the king in surprise exclaimed to Sir Ingram de Umfraville:

“What! Will yonder Scots fight us?”

“That verily they will,” the knight replied, for he had many a time been engaged in stout conflict with them, and knew how hard it was even for mail-clad knights to break through the close line of Scottish spears…” – G.A. Henty, In Freedom’s Cause

It was the Battle of Bannockburn. King Edward was there in person to command the English - which was a rare occurrence indeed. Robert Bruce was leading the Scottish troops and we all listened with baited breath.

G.A. Henty's account of the Scottish wars was always a favourite in our house. My siblings and I couldn’t help but admire the noble Scots. They were an army of common people who had left their homes to fight for freedom - freedom that had been theirs for centuries. They were outnumbered, largely untrained, and lacking in resources and yet they conducted themselves with honour, courage, and perseverance. Their patriotism was unmatched. Their bravery unwavering. But what would be their end?

We glanced anxiously at the remaining pages, fearing that they were too few to adequately conclude the story of a campaign that had lasted so many years.

 I used to wish I lived in Scotland in those times. That I could have met those brave men and shared in their fight. I still do. But nowadays, I find myself engaged in the exploits of another war. One that reminds me much of the Scots', except that its backdrop is not grassy hills and thick forests but rather the inner workings of my own soul.

 My sinful nature, the alluring pleasures of the world, and the Devil are no less powerful opponents than the English were. They are determined to rule this little territory  - my soul - even though it already has a rightful ruler.

 So, I share in the Scot’s battle for freedom. I share also in their weakness, for the little good that is in me is outnumbered, under-trained, and lacking in resources.  

When I think about the strength of my own soul, when I imagine how it would appear if drawn up in order of battle, it isn’t hard to see why the enemy looks upon me with disdain. Satan must often feel the same surprise that King Edward voiced as he looked down upon the ranks of Scots and deemed them altogether pitiable.

“What! Will yonder Scots fight us?”

Our enemy knows his strength and he deems us nothing in comparison to it. Many of us would agree with that estimation. We have failed in battle enough times to recognise how outmatched we are. Thus, the temptation to despair greets us even before we have begun to fight. The enemy hopes we will just give up, turn, and beg him for mercy.

But as I think of the Scots I am reminded that though they were badly outmatched they were not defeated. I so love Sir Ingram’s response to King Edward’s question. “Yes, verily they will,” That statement always causes me to smile. I can’t help but feel proud of the Scots even though I have never met them.

Those simple people proved time and again that one doesn't have to cower before an enemy that is stronger than you.  What was it that enabled the Scots to have such courage? To fight in the face of such insurmountable odds?

Well, as the story goes on it answers those questions:

   As the armies stood confronting each other in battle array a priest passed along the Scottish front, crucifix in hand, exhorting all to fight to the death for the liberty of their country. As he passed along the line each company knelt in an attitude of prayer. King Edward, seeing this, exclaimed to Sir Ingram:

“See yonder folk kneel to ask for mercy!”

“Aye sire,” the knight said, looking earnestly at the Scots, “they kneel and ask for mercy, but not of you; it is for their sins they ask mercy of God. I know these men, and have met and fought them, and I tell you that assuredly they will win or die, and not even when death looks them in the face will they turn to fly.” – G.A. Henty, In Freedom’s Cause

When I stand before my enemies and find myself tempted to despair I have a choice to make. How will I respond?

My enemy expects me to come and seek mercy from him. His entire goal is to prove to me that I cannot withstand him and must, sooner or later, submit myself to his rule.

In a way he is right. I cannot withstand him. He is stronger than I am. Truly, the Scots had no choice but to kneel and ask for mercy and neither do we. We do not, however, ask for mercy from the enemy. Rather we kneel before our Lord, the rightful ruler of our souls. We ask His forgiveness and we place the outcome of the battle squarely in His hands. Then we rise and fight.

My prayer this week, for myself and for each of you, is that it might be said of us as it was of the Scots, “that assuredly they will win or die, and not even when death looks them in the face will they turn to fly.” May we not fall short of that simple, unwavering courage that the Scots boasted for that courage comes from a simple, unwavering faith in the Lord of battles.

In Christ


Clothed in Sackcloth – Finding a Place for Lament in the King’s House

A Series of Musings on the Book of Esther - Part Five

“When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.” (Esther iv. 1-2)

As the fourth chapter of the book of Esther begins, we find Mordecai mourning - clothed in sackcloth, covered in ashes, and crying bitterly. I will leave you to discover why from the book of Esther itself. For right now, I want to draw your attention to just one fact: Mordecai could not enter the king’s gate because he was mourning.

It is easy to read this verse and think of it as merely a statement of fact, a rule of King Ahasuarus’ house. A description of the setting - meant to tell us what the time and the culture were like. But have you ever wondered about that law? Wondered if the same rule applies to the house of our King? If it affects the way we live?

Without realising it, many of us apply this rule to entering the church. It has come to dictate the way we interact within God’s house and with His people.

There seems to be an unspoken understanding that mourning, our sufferings, and even the uncomfortable, burning conviction of unconfessed sin should be left at the door. We have trained ourselves to be masters at entering God’s house with smiles on our faces and songs of triumph on our lips. While hiding what is truly taking place in our hearts. When we can’t, we may not come at all. Some have come to avoid the church altogether; telling ourselves that we should wait till easier times - after the difficulties, the guilt, or the sorrow have faded away. 

But is this a rule that God has made for His house, or one that we have inflicted upon ourselves?

God’s Word on the Subject

God blessed the poor in spirit, promising them the kingdom of heaven (Matthew v.3). He caused the Psalmist's pen to write, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart - these, O God, You will not despise" (Psalm li.17). He said, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” (James v.13) and “Come to Me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew xi.28)

Jesus was deeply troubled. He suffered, He wept, He sweat drops of blood. He sympathizes with us in our weakness (Hebrews iv.15) and, to Paul, He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians xii.9)

If these are God’s feelings towards sorrow, struggle, and need, then this tendency to hide those things - to keep them out of His house - clearly isn’t God instilled. So, if the rule hasn’t come from Him, where has it come from and why is it here?

It is a human propensity to amplify strengths and gloss over areas of  weakness. Few want their feebleness or shortcomings to be seen. Few also are willing to see them - to risk being disillusioned, burdened, or hurt by the struggles and the sins of others. So, the unspoken understanding is this: You take care of your problems, I’ll take care of mine, and we’ll just meet to fellowship together. But is this true fellowship? Was this God’s intent?

We find a pattern for the church in God’s Word. He instructs His people to mourn with those who mourn (Romans xii.15), to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians vi.2), to care for the orphan and the widow in their distress (James i.27), to remember the mistreated and imprisoned (Hebrews xiii.3), to strengthen feeble arms and weak knees (Hebrews xii.12).

We see in Esther that Mordecai wasn’t afraid to mourn. To cry out with a loud and bitter cry. In fact, when Esther sent him clothes to exchange for his sackcloth, he refused them. He mourned unashamedly and he mourned in company - all of the Jews were weeping together.

The Importance of the Missing Lament

When brokenness, suffering, and repentance are so often disguised in the context of the church, it is easy for the individual to be deceived into believing that they alone face such trials. It is easy to count such things strange when those around you don’t appear to suffer at all.  And it is hard to know how to walk through trials when the examples of others are hidden away.

We have believed that sin and struggle, if revealed, will drive us apart, separate us from the rest of the body, or bring their disapproval and disdain. But what if dealing with these things would knit us together instead? What if, when one member of the body suffers, we all suffer together?

In truth, we are all people with problems and the solution to every one of those problems is the same. C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship ... is born at the moment when one man says to another "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” Nowhere can greater similarity be found than in our need for the Savior. It is when we kneel at the foot of the cross that we become tied to one another. For we find that those we do life with are kneeling on either side of us.

We are not meant to commiserate in weakness - to bemoan ourselves; to parade our struggles; to focus upon them - but that doesn’t mean they need to be hidden. God makes it quite clear that our weakness is an opportunity to gain His strength. 

Our attempts to show our own strength cause us to neglect and even shy away from perfect strength - the strength He desires to give us. So, instead of masking sufferings and need, we should say, with Paul, “most gladly, I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians xii.9)

Lamenting and Joy

Joy, triumph, and encouragement are precious and needed in the church but they need not exist only in the exclusion of sorrow, conviction, and suffering. Rather, their contrast strengthens and authenticates one another.

Joy, for example, needs the context of suffering. It is gained through difficulty. The joy of our salvation is tasted through the Savior's suffering and through the suffering of sin that convinces the sinner of their need for Him.

When suffering then is hidden from sight, the onlooker will struggle to understand where our joy comes from. Some see the people in the church as the ones ‘who have it together’, whose lives work - they see victory but they do not know why. If these aren’t allowed to see that we too have shared in the sufferings they taste, that we share in sufferings still, then our joy looks to be out of their reach. It brings them discouragement rather than hope.

The majority of our worship music speaks of victory, joy, and peace - all of which are good and true of our life with the King. But while our focus is committed to those, little place is made for conviction, sorrow, and suffering. Do we realize that more than a third of the Psalms - from which our songs descend - are songs of lament? That, in addition to numerous other passages that share the same theme. Lamenting, mourning, weeping, and grieving are all very real parts of life; they all play an important role in working out one’s salvation.

We note in the Psalms, however, that the lamentations end in triumph. The triumph of a soul beholding a victorious God. Our Lord was despised and rejected - He was a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah liii.3) and yet in His presence is the fullness of joy (Psalm xvi.11). He should be the reminder to us that sorrow leads to joy when it is committed into God’s hands.

A Future Parallel

There is a time coming when there will be no more place for lamenting among God’s people – there will be no tears within the gates of heaven. But among those who are locked out there is going to be weeping and gnashing of teeth. One day there will no longer be strength for those who find themselves in weakness; nor joy to follow the mourner’s sorrow. Like Esau, the condemned will find no place for repentance though they seek it diligently with tears.

But that time has not yet come. God is mercifully waiting - giving place for repentance. He is causing difficulty to bring strength. Conviction to lead us to Him for forgiveness. Sorrow and suffering to meet the triumph of joy. So, let’s not jump ahead and ban remorse while it is still of use. Let’s not forsake the lament nor keep the mourners - be that ourselves or others - from entering the King’s house, until He Himself deems it to be time.

Therefore, let us come boldly now to His throne, that we might find grace to help in time of need!

In Christ



Before Haman Was - What to Remember When Problems Seem Big

A Series of Musings on the Book of Esther - Part Four

Tears streamed down his face. Matching the expression that was so wholly marked by sorrow. As he ran into my arms, he choked back another sob and then began to tell of his woe. I had expected to be shown a scraped knee or to hear of some unfair play, but when the little hands opened to reveal the object that was cupped inside them, I couldn’t help but smile. Not at his sadness, not at the problem, but rather that it could be so easily fixed.

 A new toy had broken in two, after just moments of use – delivering disappointment instead of the anticipated fun. But the damage wasn’t as serious as the little mind had feared and the model didn’t remain long in its broken state. For, in less time than it took to dry his tears, the toy was repaired. Then a bright smile replaced the furrowed brow.

Watching as he ran off to play, I recalled how often I had come to my Lord in a similar state.

How often I still come in such a manner - worried, fretful, and afraid; overwhelmed by a problem before I’ve even asked for help. When problems seem big, it is easy to forget that God is bigger; that He has every trial well in hand.

In the book of Esther, we learn that Mordecai and all of the Jews with him faced a problem. A problem that was big; much bigger than a broken toy and bigger even than the problems that most of us are facing. But God was bigger still. He knew Haman’s plot to have the Jews annihilated; He also knew just how to save them.

Before Haman had begun to conspire against the Jews, Esther had been placed in a position of influence, a position where she would be able to intercede. Is this just a coincidence? Perhaps. Or perhaps, as Mordecai said, she had come to the kingdom for just such a time as this - perhaps God had placed her there intentionally.

I think the Lord must smile on occasion knowing how easily my troubles truly are to amend. I think He must long at times to lift my head, dry my tears, and say, “oh child, don’t be one of little faith.”

He tells me to have faith in Him. To keep my eyes on His expression. He is never worried, never fretful, nor surprised.

I call Him ‘Provider’ but in the midst of a problem I often forget what that name really means. It means He makes the rain to fall, the crops to grow, and gives my every breath. But as provider He does much more than this. The word provider is the description of someone who is giving provision. Provision is defined both as ‘the act or process of meeting a need’ and as ‘the fact or state of being prepared beforehand.’ So, when we call our God ‘Provider’, we should remember that He not only meets our needs but does so even before they come.

He is never caught by surprise. Jesus said, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” (Matthew vi.8, ESV) and again and again the Father has proven that statement true. Meeting every need with such perfect faithfulness. Preceding trouble with provision.

 Another Example from the Life of Mordecai

We find another illustration of God’s sovereignty in Mordecai’s personal peril.

The approaching annihilation of the Jews wasn’t coming soon enough to satisfy Haman's frustration, so, in order to keep from spoiling his enjoyment of Queen Esther’s second banquet– to which only he and the king had been invited - Haman planned a special execution for Mordecai.

As morning dawned, he had only to get King Ahasuarus to agree to his plot and his satisfaction would be secured, for he had already commissioned a gallows to be constructed in his front yard just for the occasion. Approaching the king’s door, Haman feared little. The king had condemned an entire people to death at his last request, so what could possibly stand in his way now?  

Truly, God alone could. Mordecai and Esther didn’t even know of Haman’s newest scheme but the God of Mordecai and Esther did. He had been at work on it all the night before. King Ahasuarus was robbed of his sleep and, while listening to the chronicles of his life read aloud, he recalled a deed that Mordecai had done. A deed that had saved his life. God had prepared that deed before the rivalry between Haman and Mordecai even commenced; before Haman had even risen to power.

God, in His sovereignty, had prepared the perfect method of Mordecai’s rescue. He did so long before Mordecai was in need of rescue. Thus, when it was needed the provision was ready; made ready by the pre- vision of God.

It is possible that Mordecai believed that deed to have been forgotten, overlooked by the king, and of little use. But the King of all had not forgotten it. Rather He had prepared it for just such a time as this.

Our God is sovereign, and He cares for us with the same all-knowing power that we see demonstrated in the book of Esther.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John viii.58, ESV)

He said this as a statement of His divinity. As a testimony that He was greater than Abraham onto whom the eyes of the people were turned. We need to hear that statement too. We need to be reminded that He is divine and that He is greater than the things onto which we have turned our eyes.

So, when problems seem big, let us remind ourselves that no need has arisen that He did not know before it came and the trials which threaten to shatter our joy are easily made into something useful in His hands. So, let’s pray to see as David saw. To focus not on the giant of a man who towers above all the congregation of Israel, but on the giant of a God who towers high over him.

Let’s pray to be reminded that before Haman was, He is. That before our troubles were, He is and was and forever more will be.

In Christ